29 September 2012. In a surprise move Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidi yesterday resigned amid a graft probe scandal. He will retain his role as a member of parliament and as head of the Puea Thai party, allied with ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He and his colleagues in the ruling Pheu Thai Party had persistently insisted on his right and ability to stay on in the posts despite the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) finding him guilty of unlawfully endorsing the sale of monastic land to a golf course developer when he was deputy permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry in 2000. Yongyuth, who is also the Pheu Thai leader, said that he had decided to step down because of fear that remaining in the positions would be against the law. He said his resignation would become effective from Monday. He claimed that he was not pressured by anyone to resign. He denied any wrongdoing and is fighting the case. Last week, the interior ministry’s Civil Service Committee resolved to expel Yongyuth retroactively, but it also said he was qualified to benefit from the 2007 Exoneration Act. The anti-graft agency later said Yongyuth was not eligible for exoneration because he had never served the term of his punishment – a condition stated in the law. Yesterday, Yongyuth called a press conference at Saket Worawihan Temple to announce his decision to leave the Cabinet, after offering alms to monks. “This is an important day in my life. I have decided to resign as deputy prime minister and interior minister, with my own willingness and without being influenced by anyone else,” Yongyuth said, adding that he had “prepared for a long while” before coming up with the decision to quit. Political tensions have racked Thailand since Thaksin was ousted by royalist generals in 2006. Judicial rulings have played a key part in Thailand’s volatile recent past, with two pro-Thaksin premiers forced from office in 2008 by the courts. Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra is the country’s current prime minister. Pheu Thai sources said ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be pulling the strings from behind the ruling party, wanted Yongyuth out after he was implicated in the Alpine scandal. Two pro-Thaksin parties were dissolved for breaking the law earlier and the ruling party cannot afford the current party also being dissolved for breaking the law. Yongyuth had often been protected by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is Thaksin’s sister, against pressure for him to be replaced. With two major Cabinet seats left vacant, the prime minister now has to decide whether to let her existing ministers to become caretakers of the posts, or yielding to her brother Thaksin’s pressure for a big shake-up in her government. Some party sources said that the changes could affect as many as 10 Cabinet posts. Yingluck has postponed a Cabinet reshuffle in order to avoid causing ripples in the ruling party. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung took over from Yongyuth as chairman of the weekly Cabinet meeting although Yongyuth had insisted that he could chair the meeting despite the legal issue. Yongyuth, instead, went to inspect flooding in Prachin Buri, on an assignment from the prime minister who is in the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly and is due to return to Thailand today.